A home fruit planting carefully selected, properly located, and well managed can enhance the home landscape, provide high‑quality fruits and serve as a satisfying hobby.
The home fruit garden requires considerable care. Thus, people not willing or able to devote some time to a fruit planting will be disappointed in its harvest.
Some fruits require more care than others do. Tree fruits and grapes usually require more protection from insects and diseases than strawberries and blackberries. Generally speaking, flowers and fruits of fruit trees must be protected by pesticide sprays from before blossom‑time until harvest. In addition, sprays may be required to protect leaves, the trunk, and branches.
Small fruits are perhaps the most desirable of all fruits in the home garden since they come into bearing in a shorter time and usually require few or no insecticide or fungicide sprays.
Fresh fruits can be available throughout the growing season with proper selection of types and cultivars (varieties).
Soils and Sites
Avoid poorly drained areas. Deep, sandy loam soils, ranging from sandy clay loams to coarse sands or gravel mixtures, are good fruit soils. On heavier soils, plant in raised beds or on soil berms to improve drainage.
All fruit crops are subject to damage from late spring freezes. Hills, slopes or elevated areas provide better air drainage and reduce frost damages. Make certain that the air can move freely throughout the planting site and is not “boxed” in with surrounding terrain or tree borders.
Heat from houses, factories, and other structures in urban areas frequently keep the temperature 4 or 5 degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas.
Fruits do best in full sun. They can tolerate partial shade, but fruit quality will be lowered.
Size of Planting Area
Plan the planting to fit the area involved as well as family needs. A smaller planting, well cared for, will usually return more quality fruit and enjoyment to the grower than a larger neglected one. One‑half acre or less planted to adapted cultivars of the best kinds of fruit is usually adequate for the average family.
Edible landscaping is becoming more widespread for large and small landscapes. Edible landscaping is the practical integration of food plants within an ornamental or decorative setting. For those with limited space in their landscapes, consider using fruit varieties that are dwarf, compact or columnar in form.
Plan Your Planting
Develop a planting plan well in advance of the planting season. Determine the kinds of fruits, cultivars, and quantities of each needed. Locate a source of plants and make arrangements for plants to be available at the desired time of planting.
Perennial weeds such as bermudagrass and johnsongrass compete heavily with young plantings and should be eliminated before planting. This can be done by spraying with a post‑emergence herbicide such as glyphosate (Roundup®) in late summer the year before planting or by shading out weeds by growing hybrid sudangrass for the year prior to planting.
Strawberries especially should not be planted in newly turned under bermudagrass sod. Not only will the bermudagrass regrow and cause extreme competition problems because of the short height of the strawberry plants, but the white grubs that frequently infest bermudagrass sod can destroy the strawberry roots.
For best survival and production, supplemental water should be provided in the summer. Locate your plantings near a water source.
Plants received as bare root should be planted immediately after arrival. If roots are dry, completely immerse the roots in water for a few minutes or overnight before planting. Always water plants immediately after planting.
Never allow the roots to dry out or freeze. When planting is delayed several days, heel in trees by forming a mound of loose soil or mulching material. Place the roots into this mound, cover them, and moisten. The trees may be vertical or horizontal as long as the roots are covered. This protects them from drying or freezing.
Set trees about the same depth that they grew in the nursery row. Trim off broken and dried roots. Place topsoil around the roots and firm the soil to exclude air. Settle the soil with water and make sure the roots are left in a natural outward position. Leave a small basin one or two inches deep around the tree to aid in watering. Wrap the trunk from the soil line up to the first branches (or 18 inches above the ground) to protect the trunk from sunscald, rodent injury, insect damage, and drying out.
During the first summer, cultivate or mulch around the fruit plants to reduce competition from other plants and to conserve moisture and fertility. Irrigation is especially important in the first few years while the planting becomes established.
Information on pruning, spraying, and other cultural practices is available at your local county Extension office.
Pay close attention to the pollination requirements of the different fruits to avoid disappointment. Many fruits require that the flower is pollinated with pollen from a different cultivar of the same fruit or the fruit will not develop. Planting only one cultivar of these fruits often results in masses of blooms in the spring, but few or no fruits. Different strains of the same cultivar (e.g. two spur strains of ‘Delicious’) will not provide proper cross-pollination.
There are a few cultivars of apple and pear that do not produce viable pollen. If one of these cultivars is planted, two other cultivars will need to be planted (a total of 3) to provide adequate pollen for all. Sometimes some apple cultivars are listed as self‑fertile in nursery catalogs, but for consistent production of the best quality fruit, cross-pollination with another cultivar should always be provided.
Duke cherries are hybrids between sweet and sour cherries. They can be cross‑pollinated by either sweet or sour cherries, but Duke cherries should not be counted on to cross‑pollinate sweet cherries.
All fruits in the accompanying table that are not marked as requiring cross‑pollination are self-fertile, meaning that a cultivar of those fruits can set fruit with its own pollen.
Highbush blueberries will set much better crops if cross‑pollination is provided. Rabbiteye blueberries require cross‑pollination. Highbush and rabbiteye blueberries will not pollinate each other.
Dwarfing rootstocks enable fruit trees to be grown in much smaller areas than standard‑sized trees. The term ‘dwarfing’ refers to a tree smaller than when grown on seedling rootstocks, even if only 10 to 15 percent smaller. The degree of dwarfing varies with the rootstock. In general, semi‑vigorous rootstocks will produce a tree about 3/4 the size of a standard tree, semi‑dwarf about 1/2 sized, and fully dwarfing rootstocks produce trees 1/3 of standard size or smaller.
Genetic dwarf fruit trees are available but generally are not satisfactory. ‘North Star’ sour cherry is an exception.
Types of Fruit
AppIes—M.9 and M.27 rootstocks produce fully dwarfed trees (6‑8′ tall and 4‑6′ tall respectively). Both produce shallow, weak root systems and require staking or trellising, and regular watering. Dozens of other size‑reducing apple rootstocks exist, but the best for Oklahoma is MM.111. MM.111 will produce a tree that is 25 percent smaller than on seedling rootstock, but very well anchored and drought resistant.
Interstem trees, with a MM.111 root system, 8 to 10 inches of trunk of M.9 or M.26 and with the fruiting cultivar grafted on top combine the anchorage of the MM.111 with the dwarfing of M.9 or M.26 to produce a tree 8 to 10 feet tall that will not need support. Interstem trees are more costly and less available than single graft trees.
Spur‑type strains of apple cultivars have more spurs and fewer long branches than the non‑spur strains. They are smaller growing and preferred where available.
Pear—Quince is the standard dwarfing rootstock for pears, but will require support. Quince rootstocks are less cold hardy than pear, and are very susceptible to fireblight. Quince C is the most dwarfing, producing a 1/4 to 1/3 size tree. A new series of pear rootstocks, the OHXF series (from a cross between ‘Old Home’ and ‘Farmingdale’), is entering the nursery trade, and offers a variety of tree sizes from 1/4 to 3/4 standard size.
Pears are very susceptible to the bacterial disease, fireblight. Only cultivars with known resistance to this disease should be planted. Even with blight resistant cultivars, pruning out infected shoots 12‑18 inches below the infection as soon as they appear will be necessary to prevent disease buildup. Pruning shears should be sterilized between cuts. More information on fire blight control is available at your local county Extension office. The ‘Magness’ cultivar should be planted with two additional cultivars since it does not produce viable pollen.
Peach—There are no satisfactory dwarfing rootstocks for peach at present; however, ‘Halford’ or ‘Lovell’ are good choices. Many nurseries use Prunus besseyi seedlings, but often there is delayed graft incompatibility and tree death. Tree height on peaches can be kept to 6‑8′ by judicious annual pruning. Well‑drained, deep, open‑type soils of reasonable fertility are preferred. A spray program for insects and diseases beginning with a dormant application and continuing through fruit growth is required to produce clean fruit. Peach tree borer control is a necessity.
Plum—There are no satisfactory dwarfing rootstocks at present for plums. General cultural requirements are similar to peaches. The Japanese plums bloom earlier than the European types and are more subject to late spring frost damage. European and Japanese plums should not be depended upon to pollinate each other.
Cherry—There are no satisfactory dwarfing rootstocks at present for cherries. Many sweet cherries are not adapted to a hot, dry climate. Cherry leaf spot, plum curculio and poorly drained soils are the major obstacles to successful cherry production in Oklahoma. The diseases and insects can be controlled successfully with a series of sprays. Sour cherries are generally better adapted than sweet cherries. Sweet cherries in general require cross‑pollination; but two cultivars, ‘Stella’ and ‘Lapins’, are self‑fertile.
Apricot—There are no satisfactory dwarfing rootstocks at present for apricot. Apricots bloom early and are usually killed by late spring frosts. The tree is very ornamental when in bloom, and tree‑ripened apricots are delicious, but do not expect consistent production.
Strawberry—Strawberry roots are usually found in the 12 to 18 inch top layer of the soil. Most of the root system is in the first 6 to 8 inches of soil. This stresses the importance of supplemental irrigation and mulching for this crop. For continued good production, strawberry plantings should be renovated each year after harvest. Purchase virus‑tested plants only. A production of one to two quarts of berries per three foot section of row should be possible each year.
Blueberries—Blueberries require a soil pH of 5.0 to 5.2. Highbush blueberries are best adapted to northeastern Oklahoma. They will do best when protected from hot, drying winds. Rabbiteye blueberries are best adapted to southeastern Oklahoma. Highbush blueberries must have supplemental irrigation and mulch of woodchips, sawdust or pecan shells to survive. Rabbiteye blueberries also need irrigation and will benefit from mulch.
Raspberries—Raspberries, generally, are not too productive because of the fluctuating temperatures during winter. Black raspberries, if well watered and mulched, can be successful.
Blackberries—Erect thorny blackberries are the most commonly grown and do not require trellis support. Care must be taken to maintain the rows no more than one to two feet wide to facilitate harvesting. Sucker plants that come up between the rows may be dug and moved into the row or merely removed as soon as they emerge.
Trailing thornless blackberries have smooth, arching canes, and require support on a trellis. Fruit quality is improved if the fruit are allowed to ripen to a dull black rather than a glossy black color.
Grapes—Grapevines will require support on a trellis, arbor or fence. Planting in north‑south rows will increase production. Some protection from southwestern winds is desirable. Occasional supplemental watering during the fruit ripening period will improve fruit quality. Annual pruning is necessary to maintain a balance between plant growth and fruit production. It is common to remove 95 percent of the previous season’s growth when pruning.
Persimmon—Oriental persimmon trees will bear fruit without pollination. Oriental and American persimmon trees will not cross-pollinate. Oriental persimmons may not be winter hardy in northern parts of Oklahoma.
OKLAHOMA HOME FRUIT PLANTING GUIDE
David A. Hillock
Extension Consumer Horticulturist